Infidelity brings a painful end to many marriages. But many spouses– often in spite of themselves – find that they don’t want to let go of their marriage even after such betrayal. These couples often come to therapy filled with hurt, anger, and regret, and they ask, what now?
They want to repair their relationship, but are unsure whether it’s possible to get past the hurt and betrayal. And the reality is that sometimes people can’t. But they can’t know until they try. For those who can, there are certain things that need to happen for them to heal from the pain, regain trust, and move forward as a happy couple. The partners in couples who are able to move forward from a betrayal experience the following:
Genuine remorse: The offending partner expresses genuine regret for their actions. Even if they were not fully happy in their marriage, they fully acknowledge that their actions were not an acceptable way to handle those feelings. They unequivocally take responsibility for betraying their marriage, are willing to support their partner through the pain they’ve caused, and are willing to do their part in regaining trust.
Genuine forgiveness: As long as the spouse who was cheated on seethes with hurt and anger, there can be no moving forward. However, they cannot just stop how they are feeling, nor should they. Their feelings are understandable. Hopefully, with feeling heard, understood, and validated, they will begin to open up to other feelings and gain clearer perspective. They can choose to calm their throbbing hurt, surrounding themselves with those people and activities in life that feed their heart and soul. This will help them feel strong and forgive.
Forgiveness means loosening their grip on their anger. Importantly, it does not mean condoning the affair or letting their spouse off the hook. It means acknowledging the damage done by the affair, like broken trust, but choosing to look forward. The betrayed partner might ask their spouse to be more transparent, like leaving their cell phone unlocked so it can be checked, or calling in regularly to share their whereabouts. The purpose of such arrangements is to offer reassurance and to work toward regaining trust.
Honest discussion of relationship issues: While there is no excuse for having an affair, the marriage might have been at risk for it because of festering problems. But rather than discussing the problems, the partner who had an affair acted on their unhappiness. If the marriage is going to survive, these problems need to be addressed. Marital therapy can be very helpful in guiding couples through this complicated situation.
There are no magic formulas for moving past infidelity. Partners must share enough love, respect, and hope to work through the hurt, anger, and betrayal. They must be willing to work toward offering forgiveness and regaining trust. For those who do choose this path and find a way through it, the reward for their efforts – along with the wounds and scars – can be enjoying a happier relationship and more personal growth than they ever could have imagined.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.